woolf and winterson

“And since a novel has this correspondence to real life, its values are to some extent those of real life. But it is obvious that the values of women differ very often from the values which have been made by the other sex; naturally, this is so. Yet it is the masculine values that prevail. Speaking crudely, football and sport are ‘important’; the worship of fashion, the buying of clothes ‘trivial’. And these values are inevitably transferred from life to fiction. This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing room.”

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

 Just because my undying and near-pathological love for my girl Virginia has not come up lately, and because I thought it was brilliant and was so flattered that sylviawrath posted this and linked back to my blog!  (Here is a fun parenthetical tangentially related side story: one time in college I got in trouble for snapping at some imbecile who referred to A Room of One’s Own as a “dreadful tome” and got politely asked by the professor to leave and collect myself for a moment before returning to class, I am totally serious and yes I think I am bragging about this, please forgive me.)

In addition to the above lovely little quote we also must of course not forget my OTHER undying and near-pathological love for Jeanette Winterson, who COINCIDENTIALLY has written some very smart things about my girl Virginia, about her books, and about what other people say about her books, such as:

Woolf’s fiction has been overwhelmed by facts. Her diaries have given licence to a kind of perpetual commentary on every aspect of her being, who she knew, what she wore, how many times a week she washed her hair (I am not making this up), if a different Oxford Street would have meant a different Mrs Dalloway, whether or not she had sex with Vita Sackville West. Did she have sex with Leonard? Was she abused? And so on until a play on the facts warps into a documentary of factoids. Under the stress of this tabloid-style scholarship, her books disappear….

…Art into autobiography is bad enough but Critical Theory is worse. If you are very smart, like Ellmann or Julia Kristeva, you can summon up a hypertext that floats over the original like an astral body - connected, clear, unobscuring. If you are not smart - and Theory seems to attract the mentally challenged - then all we hear is a kind of intestinal groaning, length after length of tortured sentences coiled round a fugitive idea.

No one can read this rubbish except perhaps other academics squatting over the same pail. They sign to each other but they make no sense to us. If this was rocket science it might be excusable but the special knowledge needed for art is of the communicable kind. Art is communication.

I felt that while Virginia Woolf’s work needs nothing added, it does need some weight taken away. She has been hi-jacked by so many self-interest groups - feminists, theorists, modernists, historicists etc., that it is difficult to come to the work in its own right, on its own terms.


written on the body

Articulacy of fingers, the language of the deaf and dumb, signing on the body, body longing. Who taught you to write in blood on my back? Who taught you to use your hands as branding irons? You have scored your name into my shoulders, referenced me with your mark. The pads of your fingers have become printing blocks, you tap a message on to my skin, tap meaning into my body. Your Morse code interferes with my heart beat. I had a steady heart before I met you, I relied upon it, it had seen active service and grown strong. Now you alter its pace with your own rhythm, you play upon me, drumming me taut.

Written on the body is a secret code only visible in certain lights; the accumulations of a lifetime gather there. In places the palimpsest is so heavily worked that the letters feel like Braille. I like to keep my body rolled up away from prying eyes. Never unfold too much, tell the whole story. I didn’t know that you would have reading hands. You have translated me into your own book.

— Jeanette Winterson

…or my way of showing off my heavy-handed uber-metaphorical new ink (hay guys text and bodies and bodies of text and gay stuff and alphabets and language and metaphors about blindness and touch and vision and writing and maps and codes and history and histories and fiction and stories and more heavy handed overintellectual queer garbage zomgz)

sexing the cherry

The shining water and the size of the world.

To escape from the weight of the world, I leave my body where it is, in conversation or at dinner, and walk through a series of winding streets to a house standing back from the road.

The streets are badly lit and the distance from one side to the other no more than the span of my arms. The stone crumbles, the cobbles are uneven. The people who throng the streets shout at each other, their voices rising from the mass of heads and floating upwards towards the church spires and the great copper bells that clang the end of the day. Their words, rising up, form a thick cloud over the city, which every so often must be thoroughly cleansed of too much language. Men and women in balloons fly up from the main square and, armed with mops and scrubbing brushes, do battle with the canopy of words trapped under the sun.

The words resist erasure. The oldest and most stubborn form a thick crust of shattering rage. Cleaners have been bitten by words still quarrelling, and in one famous lawsuit a woman whose mop had been eaten and whose hand was badly mauled by a vicious row sought to bring the original antagonists to court. The men responsible made their defence on the grounds that the words no longer belonged to them. Years had passed. Was it their fault if the city had failed to deal with its overheads? The judge ruled against the plaintiff but ordered the city to buy her a new mop. She was not satisfied, and was later found lining the chimneys of her accused with vitriol.

I once accompanied a cleaner in a balloon and was amazed to hear, as the sights of the city dropped away, a faint murmuring like bees. The murmuring grew louder and louder till it sounded like the clamouring of birds, then like the deafening noise of schoolchildren let out for the holidays. She pointed with her mop and I saw a vibrating mass of many colours appear before us. We could no longer speak to each other and be heard.

She aimed her mop at a particularly noisy bright red band of words who, from what I could make out, had escaped from a group of young men on their way home from a brothel. I could see from the set of my companion’s mouth that she found this particular job distasteful, but she persevered, and in a few moments all that remained was the fading pink of a few ghostly swear-words.

Next we were attacked by a black cloud of wrath spewed from a parson caught fornicating his mother. The cloud wrapped around the balloon and I feared for our lives. I could not see my guide but I could hear her coughing against the noxious smell. Suddenly I was drenched in a sweet fluid and all returned to lightness.

‘I have conquered them with Holy Water,’ she said, showing me a stone jar marked with the Bishop’s seal.

After that our task was much easier. Indeed I was sorry to see the love-sighs of young girls swept away. My companion, though she told me it was strictly forbidden, caught a sonnet in a wooden box and gave it to me as a memento. If I open the box by the tiniest amount I may hear it, repeating itself endlessly as it is destined to do until someone sets it free.

Towards the end of the day we joined with the other balloons brushing away the last few stray and vagabond words. The sky under the setting sun was the colour of veined marble, and a great peace surrounded us. As we descended through the clean air we saw, passing us by from time to time, new flocks of words coming from the people in the streets who, not content with the weight of their lives, continually turned the heaviest of things into the lightest of properties.

We landed outside the university, where the dons, whose arguments had so thickly populated the ether that they had seen neither sun nor rain for the past five years, welcomed us like heroes and took us in to feast.

That night two lovers whispering under the lead canopy of the church were killed by their own passion. Their effusion of words, unable to escape through the Saturnian discipline of lead, so filled the spaces of the loft that the air was all driven away. The lovers suffocated, but when the sacristan opened the tiny door the words tumbled him over in their desire to be free, and were seen flying across the city in the shape of doves.

— Jeanette Winterson, Sexing the Cherry